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White House Vows Defense Bill Veto Over Gitmo

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WASHINGTON -- More than five years after President Barack Obama first pledged to close the military's Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for terrorism suspects, the White House drew a new line in the sand Wednesday, vowing to veto the massive National Defense Authorization Act if Congress doesn't end restrictions on transferring detainees.

Obama vowed to close the prison in his first inaugural address, and signed an executive order soon afterward ordering it closed within a year. But Congress intervened, repeatedly passing laws that forbid the White House from transferring detainees, or spending money to do so.

Obama has objected to the restrictions every year since since, and has repeatedly threatened to veto the defense bill, but never did. The administration made a similar threat earlier this week, saying Obama's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the NDAA if the Gitmo restrictions remain.

The White House took that a step farther Wednesday evening, with spokesman Jay Carney issuing an unequivocal promise soon after Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) offered an amendment in House floor debate to close the facility, which he said costs about $2.7 million per year for each of the 154 inmates who remain there. Most of the inmates have not been charged with crimes, and about half have been cleared for release.

Here is Carney's statement:

The President applauds Ranking Member Adam Smith for his continued stalwart leadership in standing up for our values and national security by advancing the cause of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. By eliminating unwarranted and burdensome restrictions relating to the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, his amendment would further our efforts to move past this chapter in U.S. history. We urge the House to adopt the Smith Amendment and put an end to the ongoing harm to the nation’s security that results from the operation of the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This Administration has repeatedly objected to statutory restrictions that impede our ability to responsibly close the detention facility and pursue appropriate options for the detainees remaining there, including by determining when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests. In hundreds of terrorism-related cases – and as illustrated once again this week – our federal courts have proven themselves to be more than capable of administering justice.

Nearly a half billion dollars per year is an unacceptable price to pay for a facility that wastes our resources, creates friction with our allies, and undermines our standing in the world. This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions and enables the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. We call on Members of both parties to work together to ensure the United States meets this goal. If this year's Defense Authorization bill continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees, the President will veto the bill.

A vote on Smith's amendment is expected Thursday, as well as passage of the defense bill. The Senate has just started work on its version of the legislation.

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Inside Guantanamo's Prison Facility
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